WELCOME BACK

April 2016: After three years away from this blog I'm back. It was originally started so I could make sense of the madness that ensued after my marriage to a sociopath. Much has changed, grown and been created since then - including reclaiming my full birth name Melanie Pledger.
My voice has become stronger, and so has my mission. I'm here on this earth to share the life-changing magic that developed as a result of my personal journey overcoming abuse, abandonment, manipulation and betrayal. I've learned that many of the rules we've been taught about life are fundamentally wrong. They've been misunderstood by most, misused by some, and deliberately misdirected by the manipulators who live and breathe among us. I've also learned that it's easier and more enjoyable than people think to shift things around...
Now I know there was a reason for it all. So now I'm back to fill in the gaps. To share what I've discovered, and dispel the myths that don't serve us... I look forward to reconnecting with old friends, and discovering new ones.
Thank you for being here.
Mel xxx

Friday, 19 February 2010

Diving For Pearls

Pearl nl: Parels de: Perlen
A grain of sand. That's all it takes. It all seems so small in the grand scheme of things. But what power it can create. What authority. What influence. Just one tiny grain of sand.

It's an irritant you see. It gets in to the shell of a live oyster and is trapped inside its mantle folds. In response to this foreign body, the mollusk produces nacre, the substance that creates the mother of pearl that lines the inside of the shell. By continual secretion of the substance, the grain of sand is no longer an irritant to the oyster, and the shellfish can continue to live a normal life.

Unless of course one day it is found by a fisherman in search of treasure. Or perhaps pulled to the surface by one of the famous Ama women of Japan, who dive almost naked, and with virtually no equipment. For these people, the oyster's natural defense to discomfort in turn creates riches that can help feed and clothe them, provide for their families. These pearls are then sold and go on to provide a different meaning to the people able to afford them.

Eastern cultures believe that pearls symbolise purity and spiritual transformation. White pearls are for purity, innocence, faith and honesty. Gold or black pearls symbolise prosperity and riches. Rose or pink pearls are said to work well with the heart Chakra. Throughout history, pearls have traditionally been the most popular accessories with bridal wear, and still continue to be a strong favourite today. The innocence and beauty symbolised by the pearl is echoed, and therefore perfectly matched, by the bride.

Now, that's all well and good. But what of the oyster? What of its personal sacrifice in order to create such a revered treasure that holds such significance, such beauty and meaning on so many levels for so many people?

At the beginning, when the grain of sand first enters its shell, the oyster suffers discomfort, perhaps even pain. Granted, we can't measure the intensity of the oyster's distress with any level of accuracy, but I would reckon that to an oyster, it must be a pretty nasty experience. Why else would it work so hard to cover it up, to stop the irritation?

And it reminds me of the way we human beings work hard to cover up our emotional pain in order to live a normal life. We'll create layer after layer of emotional pearl to surround the shame or discomfort until it becomes something we can live with. Perhaps until it actually becomes something that we are so used to, we don't even remember that it is there. Those layers, in some cases, might be love. Forgiveness. Understanding. Perhaps in other cases simply denial. Ignorance. Perhaps stubborn refusal. Others still may choose lies. Criminal behaviour. Even addictions and possibly death. Whatever the label, we find numerous ways to numb our pain.

For me, over the past year, I have felt stripped naked and, like those Ama divers, out of my depth and under water without breathing apparatus. And yes, there have been many times I've felt close to succumbing to the depths. Tempted to lose consciousness in the water. Perhaps to float away to a place of peace. And yet I haven't. Instead I've faced the ferocity of pain that over the years I'd glossed over with pearl. I've ridden the waves of emotions I had previously believed would kill me. And I truly believe that in the process I have died. Not in the real sense of the word, of course, but in the sense that I am no longer the person I was. Yes I'm still in the same body, but spiritually and emotionally I believe I am unrecognisable.

And now I can look at the hurts and pains of the past - betrayal, abandonment, derision and humiliation - and realise that they have indeed now been turned in to pearls. My survival of these experiences has made me a stronger and wiser person. More complete and consciously certain than I have ever felt before. Yes, like the oyster, I don't believe I asked for any of this to happen and, like the oyster, my old life has been sacrificed in the process. But now I am left with a fulness and wonderment for life that I never knew existed. I had never accepted myself as being worthy of such abundance. And yes, it took my 'death' to feel this fully - but you know what? Now I can see with clarity that... yes... you guessed it... those pearls and riches were already there. I didn't need to 'die' to find them because they were within me all the time - I just never realised it.

So back to the oyster, who literally loses its life when the pearl is released. After years focusing energy on covering its discomfort to make life better, it is killed for the very irritant that caused it pain in the first place. Is there a rebirth of any sort for the oyster? Well, I don't know that. What I do know is that their pearls, once out in the open, last for hundreds of years - and can touch the lives of thousands of people. So yes, perhaps in that way the oyster is reborn, and acnowledged for its suffering.

It is said it's not what happens to us that makes the difference, it's how we respond to what happens that makes the difference. Perhaps that's why we speak of digging deep within ourselves, and marvel about revealing precious pearls of wisdom?
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Back In The Saddle Again

An older Stubben Tristan Dressage saddle
And BOY does it feel good! I'd fogotten just how much I've missed the feel of the authentic Top Banana spirit. How much of a buzz I get from knowing I can make a difference. How clear it is to me where small shifts and tweaks can be made, and how wonderful it is to be given the chance to inspire and encourage.

In my mind Top Banana had become so tainted, as I've said before, that I'd wanted nothing to do with it. I rejected the name and the business - together with my career - just because I was hurting. Yes the hurt was deep and justified, but by shutting out the business I was also cutting off part of myself. For in the process I was throwing the baby out with the bath water. I had overlooked where this had all come from. Cut myself off from the roots of the business, and disregarded my own set of personal skills and also my driving passion. In a nutshell I'd forgotten about the magic that created the business in the first place - the inspiration that drove me to create the name, the logo, the feeling, the personality of the company. In the good old days we used to refer to our successes as "Banana-magic" and now it feels to me as though those good old days are now back - and how. For this time it's better. This time I have more than a decade of Top Banana experience under my belt. And this time I'm driving it by myself and for myself - with integrity, authenticity and confidence.

This week I've been pulling together my first project as The Top Banana Bunch - and it feels amazing! I'm certain about the growing team of people I'm gathering around me. I'm confident in my own abilities to deliver more than is expected. And I'm excited by the buzz that's being created as a result. The business cards are causing a stir, and the website is shaping up well. For now it's still work in progress and not public knowledge, but I'll be ready to launch it properly very soon. Since you're a selected audience, can take a sneak peak now if you like www.thetopbananagroup.com

We are going to be huge - I just know it. I can literally sense the energy that's already being created just from a few meetings and introductions. And as if I needed further confirmation, one of my very dear friends rang me this week, chuckling away as he shared some interesting news. He'd just been reading the business plan and budgets that had been written by his boss. Written under the heading of "Training" were the following words: "Find the budget to get Top Banana working with us".....!! Now, I have never worked with this particular company, but as my friend gently reminded me "You have a fantastic reputation - is it any wonder that everyone wants to be Top Banana'd...?"

So yes. I'm back. It's good. And you know what? It's going to be even better than ever before.

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Sunday, 7 February 2010

Do I Look Good Naked?

What a question..! And one, quite frankly, that I've avoided for most of my life (along with full-length mirrors) since I seem to have suffered from low self-esteem when it comes to my own personal body image.

One of my earliest negative memories about my size is of sitting at our kitchen table in floods of tears. Tears induced by a screaming tantrum and my stubborn refusal to eat yet another breakfast of egg and grapefruit, together with my mother's clear bewilderment at my behaviour. Why couldn't she understand, and why was she punishing me? It was the second week of a 14-day regime to lose weight, during which time I was allowed only egg, grapefruit and tinned tomatoes. My sister was still a baby at this time, so I can only have been four or five years old. My mother, a top model in her youth, had clearly suffered from body issues of her own (which, in those days, were not even talked about let alone acknowledged) and was determined that I wouldn't grow up under the same black cloud. Unfortunately, her good intentions seem to have backfired. Rather than gaining confidence in the way I looked, I felt that surely there must be something wrong with me - and anyway, wasn't it just a short time earlier that I'd been forced to eat two large spoonfuls of malt every day to build me up? I felt confused, hurt and ashamed - emotions that have stayed with me for a large part of my life.

So I was suitably inspired this week by Gok Wan's TV show, when he helped a blind lady to overcome her negative body image. I found the programme particularly interesting because this lovely lady had lost her sight in her 20s, so hadn't been able to see her face or her body for over 30 years. But when asked to describe how she looked, she burst in to tears, and used words like "fat" "flabby" and "wobbly" to describe herself. Despite looking lovely, she was convinced that she was unattractive - even ugly.  Gok's job, this week, was to fix purely what was in her head - the image she held locked away in her own mind's eye. Because her lack of sight meant she'd never be able to appreciate her external appearance as seen by others.

"Simple!" some might say. "A piece of cake!" others might think. Me? Well I think it's probably one of the hardest projects Mr Wan has chosen to tackle. Why? Because this week it was purely about changing his client's beliefs, her internal perception of herself - but this time without the aid of external input. No clever use of colours or patterns, no make-overs or highlights, no long mirrors or lengthening vertical drapery. Nope, this time it was a totally different brief. And one that, so far as I'm concerned, is the ONLY real project that the rest of us ever have to tackle. That of internal self-perception, whatever that may be. And if we don't like something about our lives, the answers always lie within ourselves.

Over the past year I've personally been stripped emotionally bare, and left absolutely naked and vulnerable as the day I was born. Shell-shocked and thrust suddenly in to a world that was totally unknown. I've lost everything I once thought was real. All I thought I could depend on has crumbled and fallen away. I've faced one shock after another, and believe me there have been times when I thought I couldn't go on.

And yet through it all, while I've been fighting to survive the quicksand of constant change, I've been given the opportunity to see myself as I truly am. And through that opportunity, the priceless gift to find myself beyond the facade. Because, like anyone else on the planet, once all our clothing is stripped away, there is nowhere left to hide.

So I've been finding out about myself. Realising things that I never knew before. Discovering likes and dislikes. Strengths and weaknesses. Values and principals. And beliefs. Some things have come as a total surprise (like the fact I actually enjoy making jams and chutneys...!) and others are a rebirth of interests I'd lost a long time ago (like playing the piano and singing along loudly - it may not sound very good, but it makes me FEEL good!). And as I've been exploring and making friends with myself, with who I really am, my confidence has been soaring - as my Facebook friends will confirm!

Since the mental and emotional nakedness has been achieving great results, I decided to take a fresh look at my physical self. For as long as I can remember, and in common with so many women, I've been unhappy with the way I look. And in recent years, I've chosen to hide my body in shapeless tops, trousers and trainers. It's kept me out of danger. Allowed me to exist in the shadows away from criticism, avoiding disapproval.

Well, not any more. It's been a slow and deliberate process, but slowly I've been building up my courage and now I'm experimenting with a different look - and it seems to be working! Heels are now my footwear of choice (yes, OK, not too high since I'm lacking a cruciate ligament!) along with a foray in to skirts, dresses and flowing layers. Statement jewellery is also now part of my regular wardrobe, and I've suddenly fallen in love with belts. To start with, it's nerve-wracking, as people seem taken aback by my changed appearance and ask if I'm going anywhere special - and I realise with embarrassment just how scruffy I must have been for so very long! "Ooooh, that looks nice. Is it new?" my friends are asking. No, not new, just refurbished. Taken out from the back of my wardrobe, dusted down and worn properly, not pushed away because I felt too shy to wear it.

A bit like me really. I've been carefully retrieved from the rubble of my shattered life. Tenderly dusted down, gently repaired, lovingly polished. And now, I'm gratefully shining - and radiating a new joie de vivre that had previously escaped me. For now, finally, I can accept all of me - yes, including the niggling, annoying even downright foul parts of me. Yes, I am re-born. Yes, it's been bloody hard work. And yes, I've felt naked and vulnerable as a new born baby. But now, like a baby I'm smiling and curious about my surroundings. And as any parent knows, babies love everything about themselves, yes even the contents of their own nappy!

My change over recent months has been internal - not external. A change of perspective and approach more than a change of anything on the outside. Like Gok's brave blind lady, I finally see myself as someone worthwhile, someone who can be beautiful on the inside and the outside.

So now, after all of this, and as I stride ahead with confidence, in response to the question Do I Look Good Naked? My answer at last is "Yes I jolly well do!"